Author Topic: Best Of Landscape Critique  (Read 18679 times)

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davidgray1974

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Landscape Critique
« on: January 01, 2012, 11:30:15 PM »
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I'm looking for input on my progress with my mountain landscaping.  I'm still a beginner at this so I'm looking for honest opinions.  My layout is N scale and based on the eastern side of the US.  I've been using WS ground foams and fine turf for ground cover.  I know I'm still new at this, but I want my layout to look as realistic as possible.  I'm a bit obsessive / compulsive when it comes to this and I've become my own worst critic.  I've even gotten my wife involved asking for her opinion every now and again, which I know by now is probably driving her crazy.  I now bring it to you guys.  Any and all suggestions are welcome.  I've seen what you guys can do so I know I'm asking the right folks.  Also, since I do not live within a short driving distance of the mountains, are there any websites any of you have used to get ideas for mountain railroad landscaping?



Thanks!

« Last Edit: October 11, 2015, 05:00:51 PM by tom mann »

Modeling the L&N, well at least a few times a year.

Chris333

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Re: Landscape Critique
« Reply #1 on: January 01, 2012, 11:46:02 PM »
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Just looking quick I would add more different shades of green to the mix.  I've never done a mountain layout because I'm afraid of that many rock castings. So you've made it further than I would!

Dave Schneider

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Re: Landscape Critique
« Reply #2 on: January 02, 2012, 12:07:49 AM »
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David,

You might consider using Google Earth and Bing maps to get an overview of the relationships between topography and railroads in your region of interest. As a geologist, what I notice is the somewhat random orientation of your rock castings. In much of the east, the rocks were laid down as parallel layers and later folded and tilted. After erosion from (mainly) water formed valleys and cuts through the rocks what you typically see in any particular area are rocks that have similar orientations. Think of this like layers of a cake or pages in a book that are tilted. Some rocks are hard and resistant (like sandstone or limestone) and others are more easily eroded (like shale). These different rock types will produce different landforms with the harder rocks forming ridges/steep slope and the softer rocks found in valleys or producing much less steep slopes. The best mountain scenery is able to pull these elements together so that they look familiar to people who are not geologists.   Hope this helps. You have a great start by thinking about what you are trying to accomplish at the start.


Best wishes, Dave
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John

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Re: Landscape Critique
« Reply #3 on: January 02, 2012, 07:09:59 AM »
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I think Dave's advice is spot on ..  I've avoided rock castings and sculpting as much as possible, because my scenery skills suck, and I can never get it correct ..

I guess it depends on where your railroad is located .. if it's Appalachia, its going to look a lot different than the Rockies ..

Scottl

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Re: Landscape Critique
« Reply #4 on: January 02, 2012, 09:14:36 AM »
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Scenery is like any skill- it takes practice and patience.  I find a scene often looks quite poor until the final elements are down.

I'll ditto the rock comments that Dave mentioned, but two things grab my eye: the abrupt steepness of the hill and the uniform foam color.  Where you can, I would try to extend the base of the hill out to generate some variations in the slope and make a transition to the flat track area.  In some cases, make the slope go below the track level so you can represent built-up track bed (even away from water sources).  It would not take much to do it, and would provide you some locations for rock cuts where they typically occur.

The ground foam color is easy to fix, consider what you have a base covering.  The cheap way to modify this is to lightly spray randomly with light gray or red (to tone down greeen), brown or other neutral colored craft paint (or whatever, even the rock stain will work).  This will give the foam you have some variation.  You could also do this with a different color of foam, but I find that the foam colors are often so different that this results in too much contrast.

I've really come to love doing the scenery.  There are always challenges to your modelling area, the materials are generally cheap and forgiving, and I get a lot of relaxing modelling time out of the process.  Don't worry if your attempts don't look like others at first- I think you have a great scene to start with.

Cheers

Gen

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Re: Landscape Critique
« Reply #5 on: January 02, 2012, 09:26:09 AM »
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Eastern mountains generally have more visible iron, don't they? I'd try working in a bit more sienna and burnt umber...though I'm always going to defer to the resident geologist.  :)

Ed Kapuscinski

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Re: Landscape Critique
« Reply #6 on: January 02, 2012, 01:14:50 PM »
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One of the things I'd highly recommend is approaching your scenery like any other model.

This means a few things:
1. Work from photos. I've compiled a big trove of photos from the area and season (both are key) that I'm modeling:
https://picasaweb.google.com/103328750375507168249/WinterSceneryReferencePhotos I'd recommend doing the same for your own interests. Railpictures.net has plenty of scenic stuff that should get you started if you can't get there yourself (and it's tough to take photos of June in January).

2. Pay attention to details. Note the things that are present in photos that your mind might be taking for granted. Things like ROW profile, the structure of a forest (leaf litter=>shrubs and small trees=> trees), access roads, rocks "working", the color of things (gray trees, not brown, the real color of asphalt, etc...), guard rails, man made detritus are key to getting it right.

3. Pay attention to scale. The real world is big. I know it seems like a simple fact, but people often overly miniaturize scenery to fit more in. Fewer, but bigger trees is the big thing here.

Directly critiquing what you've got. I've gotta say that it's pretty rough. For example, the hill sides that should be covered in last year's dead leaves are covered in tiny bushes. That's a classic model railroading (the tiny bushes stand in for distant trees), but if you're trying to be realistic, the whole hill side should be covered in leaf litter, then some brush, then trees. If you're trying to force perspective and use the clump foliage as background filler, that's absolutely fine, but it's jarring when it's right next to the "focus" (ie, the tracks).

Smike

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Re: Landscape Critique
« Reply #7 on: January 03, 2012, 01:06:07 PM »
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Just looking quick I would add more different shades of green to the mix. 

I strongly second that, don't get stuck into using a lot of the same shade of material.  More variety the better!!!  Also for eastern area’s most rock faces are covered with a lot of vegetation (I use this with great results http://woodlandscenics.woodlandscenics.com/show/category/GCFoliage/)  The more you embed the edges in trees, vines, or whatever the less the rocks will look like they were stuck to a smooth surface and will ‘blend’ in. Don’t be afraid to adhere stuff across the rock faces.

Rock color is fine, Eastern Rock comes in all colors, so to me its not as important. In fact I really like what you have done with the colors!

Also looks like you need dirt and other brown stuff. Caulk dust is good for adding dust and dirt to castings. Real dirt (Sift it and run a magnet over it to remove any fine metals so you don’t short out your track) Dry leaves crushed up into ablivion and dryed in an oven to remove any mold is great stuff to work with and free (sprinkle it anywhere )

Again can’t stress enough about variety of shades of color and texture.

Great going so far! Can’t wait to see more progress. (I’m totally partial to Appalachian scenes btw ;))

Mike

daniel_leavitt2000

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Re: Landscape Critique
« Reply #8 on: January 03, 2012, 05:28:13 PM »
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Dave, welcome!
We have been in serious need of more Daves recently  :D

I'll start with what I like. I think the rocks look pretty good. They are just a shade light and brown for me, but up in New England, almost everything is dark ganite, so it may very well work for your intended local. The shapes seems natural and fluid.

Now for the stuff that needs work. Ed and I share the same ideas on layout scenery.
1. Scale everything to the prototype. Big trees, shrubs, hills, roads etc.
2. Life on top of death. Under trees are dead trees. Under shrubs is dead grass. Under grass in dirt. Life lived on top of all that came before it. There is little grass under trees in forrests (the notable exception to this rule is the birch forrests in the Acadia National Park, and let me tell you it is very jarring to see this in person). Debris deadfall and old leaves are the three most ignored scenery items on layouts.
3. Use lots of photos. It dosen't matter if the photos are of the specific prototype or not, just the region or generasl location. For example, paralell parking markings can very greatly from state to state, so that is something you would want photos of when marking off your roadway.
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DKS

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Re: Landscape Critique
« Reply #9 on: January 03, 2012, 07:05:07 PM »
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David, you're a brave man to post here and ask for a critique, because we tend to tell it like it is, instead of just dishing out attaboys. I do think that, as a beginner, you're doing much better than most. However, I get the impression that what you've done is "by the (Woodland Scenics) book," as it has the earmarks of their tutorials.

Realistic, natural-looking scenery is tough to accomplish, even for experienced modelers. It will be something that comes with lots of practice. Here are my recommendations (some of which have been touched upon by previous posters).

The first thing to do, as mentioned already, is to collect images of the area you're modeling. A quick and easy way of doing that is to use Bing Maps, and zoom in on areas in the "bird's eye" mode. This is a terrific modeling tool because the angle of view is similar to that of a human looking at a model.

Starting with landscape shape, your terrain looks rather like plaster cloth draped over balls of newspaper. It stops quite abruptly at the track level, rather than taper off. The mountains of the Northeast are much older than those in the west, in geological terms. Older mountains are more eroded, and have fewer sheer drops than the dramatic younger mountains of the west.

Next, rock formations. As already noted, your rocks are placed with no consideration as to their grain. Nearly all natural rock will exhibit a grain in its structure. It's not always straight, but if it is significantly irregular, the changes in grain will occur over larger stretches of earth than most layouts can exhibit. Therefore, you need to be cognizant of the grain of the castings you place.





Compare the two images above. I've marked up the photo of your layout with the rock grain, and done the same with an image of Harper's Ferry. I chose a photo of Harper's Ferry because the landform is similar in structure to your layout. Notice, however, how much larger the landforms are in comparison to the trains. This, along with tree size, must be taken into account in order to achieve realism.

Another problem with the castings is that they appear to be placed on top of the underlying landform, whereas it's just the opposite in nature: rock formations will protrude out of the landscape. A good way to avoid this look is to build up earth around the rock faces so that they appear to be part of the earth, rather than sitting on top of it.

One thing your scenery does avoid is a mixture of rock types. Some modelers seem to think rock is rock, but there are a number of different types that are readily identifiable. If you'd have had a mixture of chunky granite- and basalt-like rocks and thickly-layered shales, someone might have recommended that you tear it out and start over.

Then there's the issue of randomness. Nature is always random; however, true natural randomness is surprisingly difficult to achieve. One way to avoid looking obviously random is to think in terms of "clumping" as opposed to "scattering," the latter being how many layouts tend to appear. This is where reference photos are invaluable.

Ironically, you may have a bit too much of exposed rock for a typical Northeastern scene. The Northeast is richly verdant, and dramatic rock formations are less prevalent because many rock walls remain hidden behind thick vegetation. I also tend to think of the Northeast as being dominated by shades of grey, as opposed to the "diluted ochre" color that you've got there. Refer back to the Harpers Ferry image for classic Northeast rock colorations.

Moving on to the greenery, it's already been noted that you need more color variation. Right now the scenery is pretty much monochromatic. However, you can also go overboard on color variation; reference photos can help you determine the range of colors you need. And, as Ed K has pointed out, you've gone straight from bare earth right to the green stuff, when there ought to be an underlying layer of debris.

My own approach to scenery-making begins with planning out where the largest rock formations will appear, and then casting them in place. Afterward, I start filling in the areas around it with Sculptamold, which can be applied very thickly without shrinking or cracking. I also add dye to the Sculptamold so that I won't have to color it later. Then I color the rock formations. Finally, I'll add talus and bond that in place, just like ballast.

When the rockwork is complete, I'll apply a layer of dead debris over all earth surfaces, even areas that may not be visible later; I do this because I can't predict what may be visible or not by the time it's done. Next I'll add undergrowth, sparsely in areas that will be thickly treed, and heaver in areas that won't have as many or any trees. After that, it's a matter of adding trees.

I have a tutorial on how I do scenery, starting here (it's 8 web pages long): http://jamesriverbranch.net/part_16.htm

Keep at it, and stop back in with more progress reports for some honest opinions.
« Last Edit: January 03, 2012, 07:09:47 PM by David K. Smith »

wm3798

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Re: Landscape Critique
« Reply #10 on: January 04, 2012, 12:27:36 PM »
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What David said.

Plus, when using rock molds, don't feel obligated to use them "as is".  You can attain the graining that David suggests by simply breaking up the molds after they dry, then aligning them along some sort of striated pattern.

You also want to be mindful of why the rock outcropping is there...  If it's like Harper's Ferry, the rocks were there first, so there will be a more random "natural" look.  If the landscape was altered to accommodate the railroad, you'll want to include evidence of blasting or excavation or both in the rock surfaces.

As for coloration, my simple solution is to take a field trip to the area I'm modeling and fill a back with rocks. 


The above shot shows how I arranged the mud shale I collected to provide the "grain" discussed in David's post.  Note that the rocks are embedded into the Sculptamold base.  I did this by "frosting" the foam landforms with tinted Sculptamold, then pressing the rocks into it while it was still workable. 


Here's the same scene with more trees added.  You can see the rock formation on the left side.  I used a lot of smaller rock chips to line the river banks with boulders, typical of the shoals along the upper Potomac.

I prefer using shards of natural rock over castings, because you never have to worry about repeating a pattern, plus the color is already taken care of.

Lee
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Scottl

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Re: Landscape Critique
« Reply #11 on: January 04, 2012, 01:15:26 PM »
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I've become a big fan of casting the rocks onto the scenery directly, rather than as separate casts.  This allows you to place it and blend with the surrounding terrain before it cures completely. 

As a geologist myself, I'm unimpressed with most commercial molds and there are few natural substitutes that scale down well.  Crumpled aluminum foil gives the appearance of igneous rocks and avoids repeated patterns, or you can make molds from rocks with good texture (pegmatite granites, some shales, coal and limestones).   Sedimentary layers are hard to convincingly replicate with anything- the ceiling tile attempts I've seen underwhelm me.  Some hand carved sed'y rocks look good, but it takes some skill, I think.

What is probably mostly ignored in modelling is the widespread occurrence (naturally and in cuts) of exposed sediment rather than rock.  Many eastern valleys are full of sediment that has been eroded by rivers, streams and cut into to make way for rail and roads.  The latter can be graded back and vegetated,  but the former are usually quite distinct.  Lance Mindheim did a great job modelling banks and sediment exposures on his Monon layout years ago but most people ignore it.

DKS

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Re: Landscape Critique
« Reply #12 on: January 04, 2012, 01:52:12 PM »
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I've been a fan of the casting in place method for a long time as well. However, I recently came up with a new favorite: rubber rocks from Cripplebush Creek. While their products are too costly to use on a full-sized basement empire, it's ideal for compact layouts, especially since you have tremendous control over the process of developing scenes. For example, this scene on my Geordie & Daphne shows the rockwork modified to fit precisely around the twin tunnel portals.
 


The largest portion of rock in this scene is made up of two castings, carefully ground out to blended together. Afterward, bits and pieces of rubber rock were teased into position to make everything seamless. Any gaps are filled in with Sculptamold, carefully carved to blend the rock faces together precisely.



GaryHinshaw

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Re: Landscape Critique
« Reply #13 on: January 04, 2012, 08:05:19 PM »
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David,

Lots of good feedback here; I hope you're finding it useful.  I don't have much to add, but I fully endorse Ed K's point to find and copy prototype photos when working on a scene.  I found some by going to RailPictures.Net and searching for photos from West Virginia with the keyword 'tunnel' in them, under the theory that your scene looks like something out of that genre.  Here are a few highlights from that search, first some wide shots:

http://www.railpictures.net/viewphoto.php?id=341516&nseq=114
http://www.railpictures.net/viewphoto.php?id=338919&nseq=121

By far, the most striking aspect of these shots is the overwhelming abundance of trees.  The only place you see exposed rock is in a thin eroded section above the river in the second shot.  So over the bulk of the hillside you should just focus on trees.  Here is a very generic trackside view:

http://www.railpictures.net/viewphoto.php?id=332270&nseq=136

Again, nothing but trees up high, but the rock is exposed in the cut, and the grain is very evident.  Note how the cut interacts with the natural undulations of the hillside: there are two distinct sections of cut separated by a compensating fill.  There is a smattering of low growth in the rocks, and some grass growing on the downhill side of the tracks, before the trees kick in.  One of the best examples of a scene like this that I've seen modeled is by CSXDixieLine, a portion of which is shown here:

https://www.therailwire.net/forum/index.php?topic=25267.msg251159#msg251159

Cheers,
Gary

MVW

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Re: Landscape Critique
« Reply #14 on: January 04, 2012, 11:58:45 PM »
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As an innocent bystander, let me just say this thread makes for some darn good (and educational) reading. Thanks to all who've taken the time to respond in detail. You're helping more people than the OP, and it's appreciated.

Jim